HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Marie Scheff could do it, but she didn’t like it.
The 95-year-old woman was among thousands of women who took jobs in factories during World War II, replacing the men who went to war and oftentimes working on planes or equipment for the war effort. These women are now referred to as “Rosies,” for Rosie the Riveter — the star of a workforce recruitment campaign who said “We Can Do It.”
Scheff worked in a plant in Chicago that made earphones for pilots. The work was soul-destroying, Scheff said Sept. 3 during an event honoring Rosies at Woodlands Retirement Community in Huntington.
“It was mind-boggling, to do the same chore day after day, month after month,” Scheff said. “It’s not to be romanticized. We had to do it.”
Keynote speaker for the event, Trevellya “Tee” Ford-Ahmed, said the Rosie legacy is more than stepping up to do “man’s” work or being caregivers or keeping things in order; it’s about putting all those skills together to be something greater.
Ford-Ahmed and 13 brothers and sisters grew up in London, West Virginia. All her brothers joined the armed forces, and two of her sisters joined the Women’s Army Corps.
Rosies are frequently associated with working in factories, but thousands also worked for the military — checking the science, writing the correspondences (as women had the typewriting and shorthand skills) and “making sure the bills got paid,” Ford-Ahmed said.
One of Ford-Ahmed’s sisters went to West Virginia State University for one semester before joining the Women’s Army Corps. It was her dream to go to college, but their father could only save enough money working in the coal mines for one semester.
“The only job she could get in West Virginia as a Black woman was cleaning houses, so she went into the Army,” she said.
Her other sister also joined, but to this day, at more than 90 years of age, refuses to say what kind of work she did, as she swore an oath to never reveal it when she got the job.
Scheff said Rosies are romanticized these days, just like John Wayne movies romanticized active war, but that’s OK. It helps the people who lived through those harrowing times rearrange their memories.
She herself likes to believe her brother, a Navy pilot, was wearing one of the earphones she worked on as he destroyed an enemy ship in the South Pacific, for which he received the Navy Cross.
Ford-Ahmed said there are still Rosies today, actively using their unique skills as women to make the world better.
The group joined others around the world in ringing a bell at 1 p.m. on Sept. 3 to honor the work of the original Rosies.